A new kind of Judaica

Susan Pomerance left a career on Wall Street seven years ago to pursue a more meaningful life.

“Deep down inside I was searching for something more passionate, and at the same time I was finding myself as a modern woman and as a Jew,” said the Weston, Mass., resident.

Her change of heart was sparked by friend Ruth Gruber, a journalist and humanitarian who has dedicated her life to rescuing Jews from oppression. Pomerance met Gruber through close friend and mentor Doris Schechter, creator of My Most Favorite Dessert Company, a Manhattan kosher dairy restaurant.

“Ruth would say, ‘You should always have a set of goals, and once you attain them, set new ones,'” Pomerance recalled. “I followed her advice as I figured out what I wanted to do next with my career.”

Pomerance’s husband grew up in Israel, and she was inspired by his family to explore Israeli culture and art. As a result, she created Yofi Collection, museum-quality Judaica, jewelry and home decor.

“When I visit Israel with my husband’s family, people say ‘yofi’ to mean ‘wonderful,’ ‘excellent,’ ‘beautiful,'” Pomerance said. “That’s exactly what I’m trying to convey.”

In 2004, just as her business was coming together, the Pomerances left Weston for San Diego. There, she networked with owners of area Judaica shops and galleries, and opened an online store a year later. Yofi took off.

“Living in San Diego expanded my knowledge of Judaism and of the items I’d like to sell,” Pomerance said of the diverse Jewish population of Southern California. The nearly 100,000-strong Jewish community is roughly one-third Mexican, one-third South African, and the rest Israeli and American.

With the advent of the Internet and the many Jewish holiday fairs throughout the United States, Israeli artists and artisans have become very popular with American Jews. Pomerance, now back on the East Coast and based in Westport, Conn., sells works by several lesser-known artists from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and commissions custom pieces from U.S.-based designers. Offerings include baby gift items, hostess gifts, office items, themed menorahs and more.

What’s hot in Judaic art today? Spiritual-protection jewelry — hamsas, evil-eye and bendel (red string) — are consistently popular among Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews alike. Mah jongg jewelry is also a best-seller, she said. And Pomerance notes an interesting recent trend in sales of boys’ Magen David neckpieces.

Several area event planners turn to Pomerance for custom items like kippahs and tallits. She increasingly receives requests for Jewish and Israeli party favors, and to suggest Jewish bar/bat mitzvah party themes. “People are expressing an interest in more meaningful themes,” she says — celebrating Israel, using the biblical seven species, or honoring famous Jewish athletes.

Yofi has helped Pomerance increase her Jewish knowledge, and she consults often with her rabbi. In turn, she finds herself educating customers.

“I get a lot of questions: Why do we salt challah? Why are there three compartments in a matzah cover? Why is the pomegranate popular in Judaism?” she said. “It’s nice to get people excited about how they can enhance Judaica at home.”

Pomerance links Judaica with tzedakah, donating partial proceeds to Hadassah and the National Breast Cancer Association, and to the sponsor organizations of the fundraising events in which she participates. “I feel it is always important to give, to do the ‘right thing,'” she said. “It makes me feel good.”

Yofi “has inspired me a lot and I like to inspire others,” Pomerance added. “I want to show young people that being Jewish can be fun and stylish and kitschy, and that they should be proud to wear Israeli and Jewish objects.

“And people can adorn their tables and homes with Judaica all year long, not only on holidays.”

Yofi Collection is available online at www.yoficollection.com.